Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Madero's writings

It’s hard to say when the Mexican Revolution began or ended, but last month we commemorated the Anniversary of the Revolution of 1910 on the day Francisco I. Madero called on the Mexican people to rise up against Porfirio Diaz’s administration. This was after the fraud-ridden election in which Diaz claimed to have won his seventh presidential term.

Porfirio Diaz had said he would welcome an opposition party candidate to run against him. Francisco Madero published “The Presidential Succession of 1910,” his campaign platform, and ran. On election day, Diaz claimed a landslide victory and had Madero arrested.

Madero escaped to San Antonio and there wrote a nine-page document published in San Luis Potosí on October 5, 1910. In it he set the date and time for the uprising against Diaz: 6:00 p.m., Sunday Nov. 20. Despite his precision, fighting began a few days before.

The San Luis Potosí Plan was successful in leading to Porfirio Diaz’s exile and Madero’s election as president in 1911, but turmoil continued for close to a decade. Madero did not live to see a post-Revolutionary Mexico. He was assassinated along with his vice-president in February 1913.

As learned this at a talk about Madero by C. M. Mayo last Tuesday in Mexico City, it turns out that Francisco Madero didn’t just write about politics and revolution.

Originally scheduled in the National Palace, the venue shifted across the street to the Archbishopric Palace. The topic of the talk was so much on my mind that as I entered the building I asked the uniformed doorman, “Is this Madero 4?” He corrected me, “Moneda 4.”

Indeed the street is named “coin” or “currency” because the first mint in the western hemisphere was down the block. If one wondered about the Colonial power’s priority, the treasury was located in that spot even before the Cathedral was built!

C.M. Mayo, the author of “The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire” about Agustin de Iturbide, is Catherine Mansell’s penname. Born in Texas, raised in northern California, she received her M.A. in economics in 1985 from the University of Chicago. In 1986 she married a young Mexican economist and moved to Mexico City. I have no doubt that in the United States, where it’s common for married women to take their husband’s surname, she’s received many invitations addressed to Dr. and Ms. Carstens.

She told us about visiting the archive of Madero at the Treasury Secretariat shortly after having published “The Last Prince.” “The curator had arranged a selection of the collection’s most outstanding items on a table that nearly spanned the width of the room: Madero’s masonic regalia, photographs, documents. We walked the length the table as she explained the importance of each piece. Not halfway through the presentation my gaze fell on a little book “Manual Spiritista” (Spiritist Manual) by ‘Bhíma.’

“Who was Bhíma?”

“Madero himself,” the curator answered.

Mayo told us, “Once I’d confirmed the work had never translated from Madero’s original Spanish, I knew I had to translate this book.”

And she did. However, it wasn’t the weekend project she had expected. Scarcely three pages in, she said, “I was dumbfounded. I had no context for such ideas. Frankly, it gave me the creeps. So instead of translating I started reading – four years worth of reading.”

That reading led to Mayo’s book – published this year – “Metaphysical Odyssey into the Mexican Revolution: Francisco I. Madero and His Secret Book.” The book includes the full translation of Madero’s “Spiritist Manual.”

Spiritism is the belief that humans are immortal spirits that attain moral and intellectual improvement through reincarnation. According to “The Spirit’s Book” published in 1857 by Allan Kardec, “Spirits exert an incessant action upon the moral world, and even upon the physical world … Spirits are incessantly in relation with men. The good spirits try to lead us into the right road, sustain us under the trials of life, and aid us to bear them with courage and resignation; the bad ones tempt us to evil: it is a pleasure for them to see us fail, and to make us like them.”

Mayo told us “Almost unknown and curious as it may sound, a vital taproot of the Mexican Revolution lies in the Burned-Over District of New York state,” an area between Albany and Buffalo known for the fiery passion of 19th century revival movements. In her book Mayo describes the North American Spiritist movement spreading to Europe. “Scottish-born American D.D. Home’s séances, like his audiences, attained a new level of glamour…Attended by royalty, including Emperor Louis Napoleon and his Empress Eugénie and high society of all stripes.”

It was from France that Madero’s father acquired Allan Kardec’s books. Madero wrote: “I did not read Kardec’s books; I devoured them. For their doctrines were so rational, so beautiful, so new, they seduced me and ever since I consider myself a Spiritist.”

Nevertheless, Madero kept his Spiritism very private. Not even sharing it with members of his cabinet. Did it affect Mexico? In the very least it must have given Madero the strength to take on the daunting task of confronting the entrenched Diaz administration.

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